PORTLAND – Israel’s consul general to New England defended his country’s controversial blockade of the Gaza Strip on Monday, but characterized the loss of lives during last month’s raid on a Gaza aid flotilla as tragic.

Nadav Tamir made his comments during a presentation Monday night at the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Family Library in Portland. The event was sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Maine and the Jewish Community Alliance.

Israel’s raid on the Gaza aid flotilla May 31 led to the deaths of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists.

Tamir said Israeli soldiers, who boarded the vessel and were attacked with chairs and poles, believed their lives were in danger and defended themselves.

But, he added, “It doesn’t mean it’s not tragic. The loss of life is always tragic.”

The blockade is politically complex, Tamir told an audience of about 75 people.

Israel is trying to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the Gaza Strip by countries, such as Iran, that want to destroy Israel, Tamir said.

Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, would use those weapons to attack Israel, he said. Unfortunately for Israel, the flotilla confrontation created a significant amount of negative press, making it appear that Israel is the aggressor.

“Israel is not defined by terror or violence,” he said. “Israel is really an amazing place.”

The country’s technology is developing, and it has more small business startups and patented products than any other country, Tamir said. “Israel is so much more than the politics.”

Tamir said he remains optimistic about the chances of improving relations between Israel and Palestine.

He singled out President Obama as being a driving force toward peace in the Middle East. Obama has reached out to moderate Muslims and Arabs and dispatched former Maine Sen. George Mitchell as a special envoy to negotiate peace.

“(Mitchell’s) record of success is a great message to all of us, that we should never give up hope,” Tamir said. “This administration has more chances than in the past to move the peace process forward.”

Tamir answered questions from the audience.

Asked about the Gaza blockade’s effectiveness, Tamir said that without it, Iran would be able to smuggle weapons to Hamas. “The Gaza regime is trying to destroy us with weapons from Iran,” he said.

Forgotten by the media, he said, is the incarceration of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held prisoner by Hamas for four years. He is not allowed visits by the Red Cross.

“For Israelis, it is like having a member of your family held in the hands of the most brutal people in the world,” Tamir said.

Eber Weinstein of Old Orchard Beach questioned Tamir’s optimism about achieving peace. Weinstein has visited Israel several times.

“How can you be so optimistic? Hamas absolutely hates Jews,” Weinstein said.

“Pursuing peace is a moral conviction. We need to do everything possible to prevent war,” Tamir replied.

Tamir has served under three foreign ministers: Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and David Levy.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]